'Skin bones' helped large dinosaurs survive, new study says

Nov 29, 2011

Bones contained entirely within the skin of some of the largest dinosaurs on Earth might have stored vital minerals to help the massive creatures survive and bear their young in tough times, according to new research by a team including a University of Guelph scientist.

Guelph biomedical scientist Matthew Vickaryous co-authored a paper published today in Nature Communications about two sauropod — an adult and a juvenile — from Madagascar.

The study suggests that these long-necked plant-eaters used hollow "skin bones" called osteoderms to store minerals needed to maintain their huge skeletons and to lay large egg clutches. Sediments around the fossils show that the dinosaurs' environment was highly seasonal and semi-arid, with periodic droughts causing massive die-offs.

"Our findings suggest that osteoderms provided an internal source of calcium and phosphorus when environmental and physiological conditions were stressful," he said. As a researcher in the Department of Biomedical Sciences in Guelph's Ontario Veterinary College, Vickaryous studies how skeletons develop, regenerate and evolve.

He worked with paleontologist Kristina Curry Rogers and geologist Raymond Rogers at Macalaster College in Minnesota, and paleontologist Michael D'Emic, now at Georgia Southern University on the study. Vickaryous helped to interpret the results of CT scans and fossilized tissue cores taken from the dinosaurs.

Shaped like footballs sliced lengthwise and about the size of a gym bag in the adult, these bones are the largest osteoderms ever identified. The adult specimen's was hollow, likely caused by extensive bone remodelling, said Vickaryous.

Osteoderms were common among armoured dinosaurs. Stegosaurs had bony back plates and tail spikes, and ankylosaurs sported heavily armoured bodies and bony tail clubs. Today these "skin bones" appear in such animals as alligators and armadillos.

Such bones were rare among and have appeared only in titanosaurs. These massive plant-eaters included the largest-ever land animals. "This is the only group of lon-necked sauropods with osteoderms," he said.

Other studies have shown that female titanosaurs laid dozens of volleyball-sized eggs. Modern crocodiles and alligators also lay clutches of dozens of eggs and are known to reabsorb minerals from their osteoderms.

The researchers found the new osteoderms along with two skeletons of the titanosaur Rapetosaurus. Unlike the hollow adult specimen, the juvenile specimen was solid and showed little evidence of remodelling. That suggests that osteoderms became more important mineral stores as the animals grew, Vickaryous said.

Explore further: Researchers create methylation maps of Neanderthals and Denisovans, compare them to modern humans

More information: Paper online (pdf) www.macalester.edu/dotAsset/3edd5b2c-a2be-43c5-b426-d45116be33aa.pdf

Provided by University of Guelph

5 /5 (4 votes)

Related Stories

Teeth study shows big dinosaurs trekked for food

Oct 26, 2011

What did giant plant-munching dinosaurs do when they couldn't find enough to eat in the parched American West? They hit the road. An analysis of fossilized teeth adds further evidence that the long-necked ...

Skull study sheds light on dinosaur diversity

Sep 15, 2005

With their long necks and tails, sauropod dinosaurs—famous as the Sinclair gasoline logo and Fred Flintstone's gravel pit tractor—are easy to recognize, in part because they all seem to look alike.

New 'thunder-thighs' dinosaur discovered (w/ Video)

Feb 23, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- A new dinosaur named Brontomerus mcintoshi, or "thunder-thighs" after its enormously powerful thigh muscles, has been discovered in Utah, USA. The new species is described in a paper recent ...

Recommended for you

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

7 hours ago

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

Crowd-sourcing Britain's Bronze Age

Apr 17, 2014

A new joint project by the British Museum and the UCL Institute of Archaeology is seeking online contributions from members of the public to enhance a major British Bronze Age archive and artefact collection.

Roman dig 'transforms understanding' of ancient port

Apr 17, 2014

(Phys.org) —Researchers from the universities of Cambridge and Southampton have discovered a new section of the boundary wall of the ancient Roman port of Ostia, proving the city was much larger than previously ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

jsa09
not rated yet Nov 30, 2011
Shaped like footballs sliced lengthwise and about the size of a gym bag in the adult...volleyball-sized eggs...
This sporting terminology might by fine for some people that do not have a measuring stick but I would rather have an actual size.

Is the GYM bag full of stuff? is it an adult persons GYM bag? a mans Gym bag? a womans gym bag? Just what sized gym bag is it?

Is a volley ball about 30 cm in diameter of is it 25cm in diameter or does it matter?

Plus what sort of football are we talking about? union? League? Soccer? Aussie rules?

More news stories

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.